Tips for Dealing with Office Gossip

This is the second in a series on office gossip. In my last column, I wrote about how harmful office gossip can be to your business. This column focuses on how you can deal with it.

Office gossip can be harmful to your business and to the reputations of your managers and employees. It can cost you money in lost productivity and turnover when employees who don’t like the negative environment leave.

Here are a few tips on how to deal with it so your business can be a healthy, happy and productive place to work.

Set the standard

This is so important that I devoted a section of my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes” to it. As the head of a company, you must lead by example. It doesn’t matter whether you want your employees to emulate your behavior — they will.

Don’t talk about negative rumors about your competition or any of your vendors. If you hear others spreading rumors, request that they refrain from doing so.

Avoid the all-employee approach

Sending an email to all the employees or announcing at an all-company meeting demanding that office gossip stop will not work. The ones who are spreading the gossip will continue to do so, and those who are not engaging will wonder what they are missing, and may even start to gossip so they can catch up.

If you can determine the source of negative gossip, meet with those individuals one-on-one to explain the repercussions of their behavior and that further gossip will not be tolerated.

Create an environment of open communication and trust

This is my number 1 tip for stopping negative office gossip. If you create an open environment where employees trust the management and feel free to communicate with their supervisors, there is no reason to spread gossip.

You’ve probably heard the term “the mushroom treatment.” It’s when employees feel like they are kept in the dark, fed a lot of manure and when they are big enough, they are canned.

Although that term originated more than 40 years ago, many companies still operate this way. When I am brought in to run a company, one of the first things I do is talk to employees at all levels to get their opinions on what is happening and what needs to be done. More often than not, when a company is in dire straits, the employees are not getting the real story. They are being kept in the dark.

Guess what happens when employees know a company is struggling but no one is telling them the truth? They begin to manufacture their own perception of the truth from what little is being shared. That’s how the office gossip train is fueled. The less they know, the more they talk. And when your employees are engaged in a rousing game of “What Did You Hear Today?” guess what they are not doing? Their jobs.

When employees are left to play the guessing game, morale and productivity take a dive, putting your company in even more jeopardy.

Generally, when I take over a company, I am walking into a toxic environment of distrust. One of my most important jobs initially is to regain the trust of the employees, and I do that by making honest communication with them a top priority. It may take a while for senior management to regain their trust, but once we do, you’d be surprised what a difference it can make in turning around a company.

Employees gossip because they are kept in the dark and feel powerless. Telling them the truth, no matter how dire it is, can make them feel empowered.

As Will Rogers said, “Rumors travel faster, but it don’t stay put as long as truth.”

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